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While significant, the latest penalty isn't a severe hit to Toyota's finances. In its last fiscal quarter alone, Toyota posted a $5.2 billion profit, crediting strong global sales.
Toyota's U.S. market share, however, has fallen more than 4 percentage points since unintended acceleration came to the forefront in August of 2009, when a California Highway Patrol officer and three others were killed in a fiery crash.
At the time, Toyota controlled 17.8 percent of the U.S. market. Gas prices were high, favoring Toyota's fuel-efficient small cars and hybrids. Detroit automakers were in serious financial trouble and had few fuel-efficient cars for sale.
By last month, though, Toyota's share totaled just 13.3 percent, according to Autodata Corp. Citi research analyst Itay Michaeli estimated last week that the recalls have cost Toyota more than 1 percentage point of market share. And the Detroit and South Korean automakers now sell more competitive small and midsize cars.
The Toyota case could foreshadow what's in store for General Motors. The same U.S. attorney's office is investigating the Detroit auto giant for its slow response to a faulty ignition switch problem in older compact cars that has been linked to at least 31 crashes and 12 deaths. NHTSA also is investigating whether GM withheld information about the problem and could fine the automaker $35 million.
Krisher contributed from Detroit